More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?
I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.
I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.
After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.
If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.
When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.
Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.